A slap shot in the face

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

TURIN, Italy -- Slap Shot used to be a goofy movie involving a plethora of incidents in minor league hockey which actually happened.

In a fictitious form it was absolutely hilarious. But if this Slap Shot actually happened it could be one of the darkest days in hockey history.

The story which rocked and shocked the world of sport yesterday has happened in various forms in other sports. There was Pete Rose in baseball and Green Bay Packers running back Paul Hornung in football.

To a lesser extent there have been stories and reports of Michael Jordan's trips to Atlantic City and all sorts of point-shaving stories in college basketball.

Germany, hosts of this summer's World Cup, was embarrassed by a referee who took bribes to rig soccer games.

And, of course, everybody remembers the figure skating fix involving French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic games - which led to Jamie Sale and David Pelletier being awarded first silver, and then gold.

But for the most part, hockey has been whiter than the ice the game is played on.

There is absolutely no suggestion whatsover that any of the alleged betting in this case involved hockey games or game-rigging.

BLACK EYES

But within days of hockey heading here as one of the centrepieces of the greatest show on snow, hockey will be coming to Turin with the potential of more black eyes than a bench-clearing brawl.

Hockey icon Wayne Gretzky's Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Rick Tocchet has been accused by authorities of being the financier of a "highly organized betting ring" in the U.S. And Gretzky's wife, Janet Jones, has allegedly been implicated.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that an investigation into a New Jersey-based betting ring discovered more than 1,000 wagers exceeding $1.7 million US were made on professional and college sports - mostly football and basketball - over 40 days.

ANSWER CHARGES

As part of the investigation - dubbed Operation Slap Shot - Tocchet was served with a criminal complaint. Authorities say he was expected to answer charges of promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy.

State police did not disclose the bettors' names. But they said charges against more individuals were possible - and described one of them as a "movie celebrity."

However, The Associated Press reported yesterday that Gretzky's actress-wife was among those implicated.

According to the report, Gretzky's wife and a half-dozen NHL players allegedly placed bets - but not on hockey.

In the next 24 hours around the National Hockey League, there will be a mad scurry of media attempting to obtain reaction from players, coaches, general managers, owners and NHLPA officials.

Rumours will swirl on both sides of the Atlantic about who may and may not be involved.

Here, this morning, media members will be in search of IOC president Jacques Rogge and the few other hockey officials such as IIHF president Rene Fasel to arrive in Turin.

Unquestionably, this story will be transported with not just members of Team Canada, but players throughout the NHL joining their teams for the 20th Olympic Winter Games.

The sensational aspect of the story and the timing, without question, will take away a considerable amount of focus on the athletes who have spent four years of their lives waiting for their Olympic moment.

And it almost, without question, will end up as dark a day for the Olympic Games as it could be for hockey.

And that might be the saddest part of this story.


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